The Atlanta Falcons have been one of the elite teams in the NFL this season. Their offense is second in total yardage and first in points per game with 33.8. They get labeled as a passing team because they have a MVP candidate in Matt Ryan; however, this team is top five in rushing. The dynamic duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman ran for 1,599 yards, compiled 883 receiving yards, and hit pay dirt 29 times during the regular season. Ryan nearly eclipsed 5,000 yards as he threw for 38 touchdowns on just seven interceptions. We know Julio Jones is their best playmaker because he had another 1,000-yard season. The biggest difference has been Ryan’s ability to spread the wealth to other receivers. Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Aldrick Robinson, Justin Hardy, Levine Toilolo, Austin Hooper, and Jacob Tamme combined for twenty touchdowns. Their contribution has made it easier for Jones to operate through defenses. There is another element that has been added to this team and that is defense.
Dan Quinn was hired as the head coach last season to build a defense good enough to get stops so the offense could excel. In the last two seasons, Atlanta has drafted or signed Vic Beasley Jr., Jalen Collins, Grady Jarett, Akeem King, Brian Poole, Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, and De’Vondre Campbell. The result has been a fast, athletic, and physical defense. Neal and Jones fit the aforementioned description and have been game changers since day one. They show their inexperience as they relinquish over 370 yards per game, but they are opportunistic. The Falcons’ defense is fourth in takeaways-giveaways and they try to score when they get the ball. They lost Desmond Trufant to injury, but they have depth in their secondary. Quinn has defensive backs that can play in any coverage and move like piranhas toward the ball. Beasley Jr. took the next step as he led the league in sacks with 15.5 in his sophomore season. So why has this team been overlooked?
The season has been a roller coaster for the Falcons. They had big wins over the Panthers, Raiders, and Broncos. They won the NFC South for the first time since 2012 and secured home-field advantage as a two-seed with an 11-5 record. They were at their low point with a controversial loss to the Seahawks and bad losses to the Chargers and Eagles. At this point, many of the experts had written the Falcons off and threw them to the side like an old toy. They got it together and made the playoffs and have been nothing short of a revelation as they have scored 80 points in their two wins over the Seahawks and Packers. The defense looked dominant as they forced turnovers and frustrated Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. Atlanta’s fans believe this is their year, but they have not always felt this strongly about their teams.
Not a Sports Town
Atlanta is considered “the melting pot” of the South as many people that live there are not from Georgia. When the Falcons, Atlanta Hawks, and Atlanta Braves have home games, it sounds like there are more fans for the visiting team. In the 2016 NBA Playoffs, The Cleveland Cavaliers played against the Hawks in Phillips Arena and you heard more supporters for the road team. In reality, that is because the fans have endured so much over the years and refuse to get their hopes up. In 1998, the Falcons went to the Super Bowl after upsetting Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss, and the Minnesota Vikings only to lose to John Elway and the Denver Broncos. In 2004, Michael Vick took them to the NFC Championship where the Eagles blew them out. In 2012, Ryan and company looked poised for a title run as they went up 17-0 on the Niners at home in the NFC Championship Game. They blew a late lead and fell short of the Super Bowl. In the early 90s in basketball, Dominique Wilkins, Stacey Augmon, and Mookie Blaylock formed quite a team for the Hawks. They never made it past the semi-finals, as they would falter to the Pistons and Celtics. The Hawks have always been a good team since 2008, but they have never had a superstar that could take over games. They got swept in the Eastern Conference Finals after winning 60 games. The city has been scarred with teams that have been good in the regular season, but not good enough to win in the postseason. In fact, the city has only experienced one championship between the three teams and that was in 1995 by the Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz-led Braves who knocked off the New York Yankees. Georgians have adopted a passive approach, which is “wait-and-see” when it comes to these franchises. This makes it harder for the teams to lure in bigger stars.
Atlanta Known for Food not Sports
This is not a knock on Atlanta, but the city is known for Chick-Fil-A and Waffle House. Chick-Fil-A is known for their chicken sandwiches, fries, and lemonade. The company has started to pop up around the country in different states and enjoyed by many. Chick-Fil-A has been a partner with the NCAA as they are a sponsor in bowl games and host the SEC in an early season game. Waffle House is sort of like the Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles of the South. If you have not had either place, you should Google the nearest restaurant near your current location. Sports are an afterthought when people visit Atlanta.
Atlanta is considered a “black Mecca” because it is a place that helps blacks cultivate and expand their horizons. They can be like Kasim Reed and work their way through the political ranks. Reed is the mayor of Atlanta and has done a good job putting money into poor neighborhoods. Black people can go to some of the best educational institutions such as: Clark Atlanta, Spelman, and Morehouse. There many of them learn more about African American culture as well as earn a degree. There is a strong sense of brother and sisterhood amongst blacks in Atlanta. It does not stop with blacks. Blacks and whites share a harmonious relationship in the city unlike any other city in America. Atlanta also gives African Americans the best chance to be business owners and thrive because the neighborhoods are predominantly black.
Los Angeles and New York are often referred to as the origins of rap or hip-hop. However, Atlanta has had their fair share of talent in the music industry. At some point, Outkast, Xscape, Jermaine Dupri, Ludacris, or T.I. held it down for the older generation of music in the ATL. People knew Atlanta had artists coming out of the city, but Dupri and Ludacris really put them on the map in different ways. Dupri had a hot single called “Welcome to Atlanta” and he gave insight on the day-to-day life of inner city people. Ludacris offered a new wild and explicit style, but matured into a smooth rapper capable of switching tempo. Tip literally started from the bottom and a lot of fans gravitated towards him because he came from the streets. He would dominate the rap game for a period of time only being rivaled by Lil Wayne. Today, “the A” is known for putting out trap rappers and catchy songs. Gucci Mane was at the forefront of this movement as he shed light on the lifestyle of a trapper. He would often tell stories with a flow that goes well with his bass boosted beats. Young Jeezy was also the Godfather of trap. Future, Migos, Young Thug, 2 Chainz, and Rae Sremmurd headline a very deep group of Atlanta rappers. Childish Gambino also does is part in the rap world, but his show “Atlanta” has captivated many across the nation. The show offers some insight on the city and the music industry. Atlanta certainly cannot be overlooked on and off the field.
It has been over 20 years since Atlanta has celebrated a championship. Recently, the Chicago Cubs and Cavs have ended their championship droughts so the odds might be in the Falcons favor. They have to go through Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, which is no easy task. However, if the Falcons win, they can go down as one of the best teams to ever win the Lombardi trophy with that potent offense. A Falcons win would mean more to the city and to the culture.